November 6, 2008

Collabora funds development of open source video editor PiTiVi

Author: Nathan Willis

Open source multimedia specialist Collabora is hiring developers to work on the nonlinear video editor PiTiVi. The Cambridge, UK-based company contributes heavily to the GStreamer media framework and other GStreamer-dependent projects, so PiTiVi is a natural fit -- and it fills a sorely needed niche on the Linux desktop.

PiTiVi is a GTK+ video editor written primarily in Python and available under the LGPL. It uses GStreamer for audio and video processing, and the Gnonlin editing components. PiTiVi maintainer Edward Hervey is a Collabora employee, and the company employs another PiTiVi hacker part-time to focus on user interface improvements.

Collabora's Christian Schaller put out the call for a new round of hires via his blog on October 21, seeking multiple developers with experience in video editing, codec development, or GStreamer. He cited the company's decision that "if the Linux desktop was going to have a nice and easy to use video editor any time soon, we needed to do something to increase the pace of development significantly."

According to Schaller, Collabora hopes to assemble a three-to-four-person team in the short term, with the possibility of expanding further down the line. He says that the company's goal is "to take PiTiVi from a nice beginning to something that Linux users would naturally reach for when needing to edit their video clips. The goal is to keep the standard version of PiTiVi simple to use and aimed at people who do not edit videos as their main job.

"Our current timeline is to do a set of development releases over the next months," he says, "aiming for a major release in March/April, which should have most of the features people want from a basic video editor, like cutting, transitions, audio editing, photo support, and support for live sources like DV and HD DV."

Supporting development

The company intends to fund its PiTiVi team through contract projects customizing GStreamer-based media pipelines for customers in the entertainment and broadcasting industries. "The PiTiVi desktop application is to be our exhibition window for what we position as PiTiVi, GStreamer, and Gnonlin -- 'the platform.'

"The idea behind the platform is that being a modular system, PiTiVi, Gnonlin, and GStreamer are uniquely position to suit a wide range of needs that the other monolithic efforts out there cannot easily address. For instance, we are already working on using GStreamer and Gnonlin for mobile editing solutions for things like cell phones and other portable devices with some of our customers.... We are not positioning PiTiVi to be an Avid killer; that would be silly. Instead we offer it as an easily modified platform to create applications addressing specific needs in their workflow."

A critical part of building PiTiVi and GStreamer into a flexible editing platform is solid support for file formats common in the video editing world, including "intermediate" container formats used in other applications' editing pipeline, but far less familiar than playback codecs. For example, Schaller says, the platform already supports Dirac Pro, and will shortly be adding MXF and improving its QuickTime support. Support for Avid's DNxHD format is also planned.

Upstream

Schaller says that all of the changes born of the company's current contract work go directly back into the upstream GStreamer, Gnonlin, and PiTiVi code base -- though there are certain circumstances in which that might not be the case, such as a special extension to interface to a broadcaster's proprietary content management system.

But Collabora's plan is to keep all work on PiTiVi in the main trunk whenever possible. Schaller observes that both the modular nature of GStreamer and PiTiVi and the projects' licensing are designed to make pluggable, special-purpose adjustments easy to do.

Video woe

The lack of a stable, full-featured nonlinear video editor for Linux has been a sticking point for multimedia fans for several years. There are other efforts underway, including the DV-focused Kino and the community-driven Lumiera, a recent fork from the aging Cinelerra.

PiTiVi has been relatively slow-growing since its inception in 2004, making few official releases. Will a paid team of developers at Collabora make a substantial difference, allowing PiTiVi to leapfrog to the front of the pack?

There is a strong case to be made that it will. As Schaller observed, while most of the other video editing apps are monolithic, PiTiVi is modular. That makes Collabora's business model possible, supporting work on the code base through contract projects that may individually involve only a portion of the PiTiVi / Gnonlin / GStreamer stack. The company has a proven track record with this approach, both with GStreamer and with Telepathy. And one must not forget that although the PiTiVi project was started in 2004, it was not until late 2005 that GStreamer itself reached the level of stability required to build serious applications. A lot has changed since then.

Schaller says that the recruiting drive at Collabora is going very well. He notes that although it may not be easier to find qualified candidates with multimedia development experience, "what is certain though is since so many embedded systems are using it there is at least easier to find people with existing GStreamer experience." And that bodes well for PiTiVi.

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